Unashamed by Lecrae (book review)

Unashamed by Lecrae

Lecrae is kind of a big deal. He’s appeared on The Tonight Show multiple times, has been nominated and won several awards (including being the first rapper to win the BET Award for Best Gospel Artist), and his 2014 album, Anomaly, debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, Rap, Digital, Christian, Gospel and Independent charts. That’s pretty impressive.

It also means that Christians don’t really know what to do with him.

Many of us have a hard time with the whole “Christian rap” thing (as in, not being sure it’s actually a thing). Others who are so entrenched in the Christian subculture are concerned that as he grows in popularity, he’s going to “go soft” on Jesus. And then there are people like me. I don’t believe rap music is inherently sinful, but there’s not a lot I really enjoy.[1. Though I do love me a little Run DMC around Christmastime.] As for Lecrae’s music itself, as was once said about Sting, “The music he’s created over the years, I don’t really listen to it, but the fact that he’s making it, I respect that.”[2. Any day I get to use a Zoolander reference is a good day.]

(Kidding. Kind of.)

In truth, I’ve only heard a handful of his songs. What I’ve heard has been well done, his faith is unmistakable, but it’s not what you’d expect from a Christian artist. He doesn’t fit whatever stereotype or caricature comes to mind when we think “Christian artist”. And this also is what I appreciate about his first book, Unashamed—this reality that if you’re a Christian, you’re not really going to fit in. In fact, as he writes, being a Christian “means not fitting in and the only solution is learning to look to God for ultimate recognition . . . if you live for people’s acceptance, you’ll die from their rejection” (9).

The search for acceptance

This is not a pat truism for Lecrae–this struggle with acceptance is what we see all throughout the book. Abandoned by his father, Lecrae was constantly trying to find his fit. To find acceptance, whether through machismo, girls, partying, and rap culture.

Hip-hop gave me hope that even though I felt alone, I wasn’t. It reminded me that there was a difference in the value people ascribe to you and your actual worth. It told me that my pain was valid. That even though I wasn’t speaking of my struggles, they were worth discussing. And at a time when I didn’t feel heard or seen, hip-hop made me feel significant. (21)

Switch out hip-hop with your subculture of choice, and this would probably speak to your experience as well. For me, growing up as a nerdy, shy, unathletic, uncoordinated, “husky” child, my subculture was comic books. The Marvel vs DC wars, the number of comics in your collection, and the number of fanboy letters you had published in your favorite books[3. I had one in Steel #13, if I remember correctly.] were your street cred. (Unfortunately, no one told us girls were wildly unimpressed by such things.)

And Christians aren’t immune to this, either. I know people who faked speaking in tongues as teens just to “get it over with”. I know kids who are concerned about whether or not they brought their Bibles to church, but aren’t too worried about reading them at home. I know people who are super-busy and super-generous, but are super-distant from God.

And the trappings of these alternate forms of acceptance don’t satisfy. They don’t deal with the temporal cause of our acceptance issues, nor do they deal with their spiritual root. They become our identities, false faces that prevents people from seeing who we really are and what we really need.

Why we need to speak of brokenness

The fact is, our brokenness—the fruit of our own sin and the consequences of the sins committed against us—needs to be dealt with. And one of the ways we can do that, helpfully, is by speaking of it openly. By that, I don’t mean by glorying in our sin and shame, or by making a big deal of all the “fun” we used to have.

Instead, we should strive to speak of it the way Lecrae consistently does in this book—openly, honestly but repentantly. He doesn’t write of acting out what the sexual abuse he experienced as a child taught him as one who is proud, but as one who knows his brain was rewired by the trauma he experienced (27-30). As one who knows firsthand that, “if you ignore your wounds, they will not go away” (30).

“Sports, sex, substances and soul-searching had all failed to bring me the fulfillment I wanted,” he writes (56). He needed something more. And just as he kept running back to the same false hopes to heal him, Lecrae keeps running back to the same point in this book (and rightly so). We need more than pat answers—we need to be willing to show our scars to the world. He writes,

Talking about wounds is important, but talking about our healed wounds is just as important. Because scars are the evidence that wounds can heal. That wounds don’t last forever. That healing is possible. (36)

Lecrae’s story of identity (and ours)

And eventually, that more did come in the form of faith in Jesus Christ. Which, of course, means the story’s over and everything is awesome, right? Well, not so much. See, even when Lecrae’s faith took root, he still struggled with his identity. Being a Christian rapper didn’t help with that, to some degree. He is a hip-hop artist who is unashamedly Christian, but he doesn’t fit neatly in either world.

Kind of like the rest of us, if we’re being honest. While Unashamed is Lecrae’s story, it’s also our own. We, too, struggle with acceptance. We struggle with pride. We have been wounded and wound others. We don’t neatly fit in any box.

We are outsiders in the world, to the glory of God.

But we are more than that. We are outsiders, true; but we are children unconditionally loved by our heavenly Father. We are sinners who have “been rescued from [our] brokenness and called to glorify the One who has never left [our] side” (187). That is who Lecrae is, and that is who you and I are, as well. These are truths you and I may already know, but we can never know them so well as to not need to hear them once again. And I am thankful for the reminder I’ve received reading this book.

Title: Unashamed
Author: Lecrae Moore (with Jonathan Merritt)
Publisher: B&H Publishing Group

Buy it at: Amazon

Four books I’m most excited about from #T4G2016

T4G - the freebie pile

Books. Everywhere. Tens of thousands of them.

And many of them… free.

That, friends, is what is exciting for so many people who attend Together for the Gospel every two years. I’ve never been to an event as extravagantly generous to its attendees as this one, where it is not uncommon to return home with between 16 and 30 free books, the vast majority of which are excellent (depending on your taste and reading habits).

This year, I returned home from the event with 30-ish books. (You can read about the trial of packing them here.) There were a few I chose not to pick up this time around (but only because I already had them). Having now unpacked my books, I’m starting to go through them with a critical eye—specifically, looking for the ones I’m really excited about.

That’s what I’m sharing with you today. While I am pretty keen on all the books that I brought home, these are the ones I know I’m going read at my earliest opportunity, or have already started to use in our home. Check it out:

Hymns of Grace. Yep, a hymnal actually made the “most excited about” list. Why? Because it’s got some terrific songs in it, and not just old ones, either. The folks at The Master’s Seminary did a great job selecting classic and modern hymns that exalt Christ and speak to the heart. Emily’s already started trying to figure out how to play some of them on her ukulele, which is encouraging, as family worship (specifically through music) is not something we’ve done often. Perhaps this will assist us in building a new habit in our home.

Thoughts for Young Men by J.C. Ryle. Reading Ryle is good for your soul, which is probably why his work is as relevant today as it was more than 100 years ago. I’m really looking forward to digging into this volume, which offers his insights into the spiritual formation of young men, the dangers, counsels and special rules they (and all of us, really) need to consider.

Discipling by Mark Dever. The Building Healthy Churches series is one of the first I’d recommend to anyone who is hoping to learn what a healthy church can (or should) look like. Each volume I’ve read has been clear, Christ-centered and extremely helpful. I’m hopeful this volume, focused on how disciple-making relationships should function in the local church, will continue in this vein.

A Camaraderie of Confidence by John Piper. The seventh volume in Piper’s The Swans are Not Silent series, this book focuses on the lives of Charles Spurgeon, George Müller and Hudson Tayler, men who knew and loved one another and whose lives displayed “their shared confidence in the power of God and their love for his glory and goodness.” I am thankful for the influence of each of these men in my life (our son is named in honor of Taylor), so I’m eager to read these short biographies.

Book Review: Anne Bradstreet by D. B. Kellogg

Title: Anne Bradstreet
Author: D. B. Kellogg
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2010)

The colonization of America in the 17th century was a fascinating time period. The circumstances that drove men and women to travel for weeks to forge a new life for themselves in what would become the United States are beyond what most of us can fathom. And the story is often told as acts of relentless heroism and bravery in the face of uncertainty.

Except when it comes to the Puritans. The Salem witch trials and an inflexible attitude & work ethic are, sadly, what the bulk of us think of when we consider the Puritans who founded much of New England.

And because of this, it’s easy to overlook figures like Anne Bradstreet, a devoted Puritan, wife, mother and… poet. Published as part of Thomas Nelson’s Christian Encounters series, Anne Bradstreet by D. B. Kellogg offers readers a taste of the life of this extremely unusual figure.

And unusual she was. Read More about Book Review: Anne Bradstreet by D. B. Kellogg

Book Review: Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas

Title: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Author: Eric Metaxas
Publisher: Thomas Nelson

World War II is unquestionably one of the most devastating events in human history.  Like perhaps no other, it is a testimony to the evil of which man is capable.

Hitler’s extraordinary rise to power and his reign led to Germany’s rising out of the shame of their defeat in the First World War, followed quickly by the nation’s devastation as its desperate people bought into the promises of their false messiah. Along the way, tens of millions of men, women and children were brutally murdered.

And, seemingly, no one could stop them.

But not all of Germany’s people were deceived. Some stood against the Nazis.

Among them was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor and author whose works, including The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together, are still widely read today.

Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy is the first major biography on this important figure in forty years. Relying on past biographies, interviews and letters from Bonhoeffer written over the course of his life, Metaxas paints a captivating picture of this twentieth century martyr. Read More about Book Review: Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas

Book Review: Once An Arafat Man by Tass Saada

Title: Once an Arafat Man
Authors: Tass Saada with Dean Merrill
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers

Tass Saada was born in Gaza City in 1951. He was born in a tent. His family one of the many groups of refugees moved out of Palestine.

Moving from Palestine to Saudi Arabia and eventually to Jordan, Saada grew to be a young man characterized by rage. He found a channel for it: He joined the PLO and was trained as a sniper.

He became a murderer. And he trained others—including children—to be the same.

Eventually, Saada left the PLO and came to America. He married, had a family, a successful career… but his life was a wreck. He was a terrible husband, a worse father. While he didn’t actively practice the Muslim faith of his youth, he still identified with it.

Then, his friend Charlie told him about Jesus, and his life was changed forever.

Grace Abounding

Saada’s story as told in Once an Arafat Man, is powerful. He’s very transparent about his past, how he relished in the death and destruction he caused, his selfish motives for marrying his wife, Karen, and his unfaithfulness to her… Saada makes it very plain that he was a very bad man. He’s not a man deserving of God’s grace, and he knows it. That, in large part, is what makes his story so powerful. God had no need to save Saada, yet He did. The same is true for you, if you’re a Christian, and me.

A Dangerous Decision

Converting from Islam to Christianity is a dangerous thing, far more dangerous than I think most of us would realize. To do so brings dishonor to the family, a crime punishable by death. Read More about Book Review: Once An Arafat Man by Tass Saada